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Union Facts

Understanding Beck rights

Reforms such as paycheck protection only cover one way that unions fund their political activities. These funds are obtained through regular union dues, and sometimes through special assessments (which were at issue in the recent Supreme Court case Knox v.SEIU). The “bottom line” dues payments made by union members can actually be split into two parts: 1) representational activities and overhead and 2) everything else.

In Communications Workers of America v. Beck (1988) the Supreme Court ruled that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) restricted unions from collecting dues for political activities if a union member chooses to opt out. The required dues can only be used for collective-bargaining and other representational activities.

The result of Beck in practice differs from state to state and from union to union.

If you live in a right-to-work state you:

  • may choose to leave the union entirely
  • may remain a member and pay their share of the representational costs

It’s important to note that unions often want to still represent all employees, even those who don’t pay dues, so union laments of “free-riders” are caused by their own preferences.

If you live in a non-right-to-work state:

  • you may opt out of paying for the non-representational activities of the union
  • unions will not usually allow partial membership, so they will often ask the employee to resign from the union
  • the opt out period is usually brief

Unions must pro-rate the dues, which are called “agency fees” when paid by nonmembers who exercise their Beck rights. These fees are calculated to include the representational activities, as well as overhead for running the union.

Beck rights notifications have changed over the years. The posting by all employers was required under George H.W. Bush, rescinded under Bill Clinton, reinstated by George W. Bush, and rescinded again under Barack Obama.